This book answers the what, why, where, how and who/Who of the best baddies in children’s TV: the Daleks. But it raises an interesting question of its own: “What if?”
Daleks! The Doctor’s deadliest enemies, but also his earliest champions. If it hadn’t been for the Daleks, there might be no Doctor Who today – the show would probably be just a footnote in television history, an ambitious but long-forgotten teatime drama. (“Introduction”, pg. 5)
The Daleks are such good characters, so frightening to children, so entertaining to adults, that it’s hard to remember that they might never have been invented. But history could easily taken a different course. There might have been no Doctor Who; there might have been a Doctor Who, but without Daleks. There might have been a Doctor Who with even better villains. If parallel universes exist, perhaps there is and are. But it’s hard to imagine better villains than the Daleks, just as it’s hard to imagine a better band than the Beatles, although the Beatles too might never have existed.
Both the Beatles and the Daleks are now central to British pop-culture, instantly recognized, easily parodied and mostly held in great affection. The actor Nicholas Briggs describes tapping the affection like this:
I watch the action on a monitor and then I just scream like mad, basically. The first time the cast heard me speaking as a Dalek was at the read-through. The first thing I had to do was a gut-wrenching scream. … A few lines later I had my very first “Exterminate”, and Chris[topher Eccleston] went, “Yes!” and everyone else gave a huge cheer. (“Voicing an Icon”, pg. 112)
I don’t like the word “icon” in its modern sense, but “icon” is what the Daleks are: once seen, never forgotten. And once heard, never forgotten too. The Daleks’ ruthless, ranting electronic voices are half of what makes them so powerful and pastiche-able. The actors Peter Hawkins and David Graham created those voices with the help of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and an electronic device called the “ring modulator”. Also powerful and pastiche-able, but more human and less iconic, is Davros, the insane scientific genius who created the Daleks on the war-poisoned planet of Skaro. Or is he insane? It would be interesting to analyse his megalomania, ruthlessness and ambition from the Nietzschean point of view, but the more immediate comparison is Hitler-as-Ena-Sharples. Which would make the Daleks SS-as-Salt-Shakers:
These links were made more obvious in Genesis of the Daleks (1975), which depicted the Kaleds [progenitors of the Daleks] as a fascist state of black-clad soldiers, obsessed with ethnic cleansing, who regularly clicked their heels as they denounced each other. Davros’s aide, Nyder, was creepily reminiscent of Himmler, founder of the SS, even down to the swept-over hair and wire-framed glasses. (“Fascism: We Must Keep the Kaled Race Pure”, pg. 14)
And perhaps the Daleks have been made into salt-shakers: they aren’t confined to TV series, films, comics, computer-games and toys. No, the BBC have also made a lot of money by selling them on T-shirts, tea-towels, bed-covers, pillow-cases and a lot more. But the man who designed them, Ray Cusick, “received only the standard BBC rate” for his work, though he also got “a gold Blue Peter badge” (“Designing an Icon”, pg. 21). Like Ena Sharples and Blue Peter, the Daleks will often mean nothing to people outside Britain and its Commonwealth, but that’s part of what inspires our affection for them: Doctor Who and its characters are a family heirloom, a private joke, in a way universally popular series like Star Trek and Star Wars can never be in their cultures-of-origin.
Me, I’ve not seen Doctor Who for years and don’t care if I never see it again. The PC is getting stronger all the time, I’m sure, and I’m surprised there hasn’t been a gay or black Doctor so far. If there has been, well, that just goes to show that I’m not a Doctor Who fan. But I still like the Daleks, I still enjoyed dipping into this book and I still admire the men who created such memorable and menacing megalomaniacs:
The Daleks have conquered space, travelled beyond the universe, threatened every reality and challenged the most powerful race in the cosmos for control of Time itself. They cannot be reasoned with, they do not form genuine alliances, they do not want surrender. They will not rest until the only form of life in the universe is Dalek life. One day, the last word the last free creature will hear is… (“The New Dalek Paradigm”, pg. 160)
If you enjoy completing the sentence, you may also enjoy the book.